I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully piece together what happened to my friend, Parabola Finch, last night. I don’t know how to understand it, even after knowing him since we were both teenagers, after reading letter after letter of his. We were the quiet weirdos of our suburban town. The readers. The loners. The seekers after greater mystery; drawn ineluctably to the stories of Tolkien, Heinlein, McIntyre, and Dick. We didn’t go to the same high school, but we knew the same people. We worked the same summer jobs and wove throughout the same slowly disintegrating friend circles. We’d share whispers when we’d encounter each other by chance at a random backyard party. As that final summer wound down, with high school behind us and college, jobs, and the unknown ahead, we lost touch. I’m not convinced that a true understanding of his can be found in our shared past, but must instead lie in our recent epistolary friendship. Years wound by, and we both stumbled separately toward adulthood. We found each other by email and starting chatting. Long chains of digital text gave way to handwritten letters. Letter after letter. Funny that it was a phone call that brought me here, to Finch’s desk. Trying to understand what happened.
Yesterday, at around three a.m., I was awakened by a call from the Nassau County police. The voice on the other end apologized for waking me, but wanted some information concerning my friend, Finch. I didn’t understand why I was being called, and I said as much but the officer on the other end only repeated that mine was the only contact number they had; Finch was dead. I didn’t know how to understand that just then. The sudden death of a young man, a friend, left me stunned. There was silence for a while before the officer suggested that I come down to view Finch’s personal effects, and asked me if I had contact information for anyone else they should call.
Was there anyone else? What did I really know about Finch? How did he die? I assumed suicide, but when I intimated that to the officer he rebuffed the suggestion. I considered murder, but before I could mention it, the cop said that they weren’t quite sure how he died. Some kind of freak electric accident.
I was even more stunned. An accident? Finch had been going through some rough times in the past month or so. He’d just split from his wife—not a divorce, just estrangement. They’d grown apart, he said. He’d moved out of the small, well-decorated apartment they shared on Long Island, and had rented a garret room in an old boarding house near Lloyd Harbor. He’d lately taken on an obsessive need to write, and blamed the demise of his marital relationship on this. As of late he seemed almost to care more about filling up notebooks (which he did readily and with speed. I can see many from where I’m sitting) than about people. The people in his life, his family (what little he had left) and friends, became sources of synthesis for him. Objects he could release into his stories so that he’d always be in control the outcome. We often shared stories back and forth, and I frequently recognized myself and others in his tales.
After I got off the phone with the police I couldn’t sleep, so I started sifting through some letters and emails Finch and I had sent to one another. We had communicated in some fashion at least everyday. We chatted and planned by email, but it was in our letters that we really talked. I empathized with Finch and his desire to write. We would often talk about taking a road trip to the woods, renting a cabin, and writing in solitude. It was a daydream for me, I guess. I enjoyed writing, but I didn’t need to do it with the same self-immolating passion as Finch. My daydream became Finch’s reality as he moved out of his co-op and into this garret room. Once he moved he stopped sending me emails entirely, and only sent handwritten letters. Scrawls of black ink on lined paper. Harsh slashes and gentle curves. It was just this morning, still foggy from sleep and terrible news, before the quiet of dark gave way, that I scanned one of the first letters I received from Finch after he’d moved.
“Sam! I know that no one understands why I had to leave. Why I needed to get away from everything. Why I needed to dedicate myself to writing and writing alone. For now at least. I think that you understand, and I know that you’re not going to judge me. At least I hope you won’t. The pull was just too strong. I didn’t bring much with me. Pens, paper, my books, my notebooks, a portable typewriter, and a laptop. As soon as I moved in and put my stuff down I had the urge to write. The instantaneousness of it, the creative urge blasted out from this perfect solitude. This can’t last forever.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he thought wouldn’t last forever. His estrangement from life? His urge to write? Not wanting to make him feel bad about himself I never pressed. I wrote him back, told him that I was excited that he was making the move to write full-time, but expressed caution about how this might affect his personal relationships. I also asked him to describe his new place to me.
“It’s off. It’s clean and neat, of course, but it’s an attic. There’s a separate entrance on the east side of the house; a rickety zig-zag of stairs that was added to the outside a while back (so the owners told me). The room is basically a large rectangle. The ceiling is a sloped peak, dormered—so that you can only really stand at full height when walking down the center of the room. It’s really pretty nice and roomy. There’s a tiny bathroom to the east; just a toilet, sink and a cramped shower (the bathroom ceiling slopes too!), and a small kitchen area just opposite the bathroom. There’s a little nook that doesn’t slope, an alcove on the north side, this is where I’ve put my writing desk. There’s a window on that wall, but it’s been boarded up. I’ll have to check that out soon.”
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